FORT MYERS, Fla. — On an unseasonably cool Florida afternoon, Red Sox regulars scattered like mice before the start of the annual spring training exhibition vs. Northeastern.
None of them were going to play, and therefore, none had to stay, the promise of a rare afternoon off beckoning like an oasis.
So in their place, a parade of prospects, minor leaguers, and fringe performers comprised the starting nine. Some — such as center fielder Jarren Duran — may have a future in Boston. Others — such as third baseman Chad De La Guerra or left fielder John Andreoli — are household names only in their own households.
But there, batting cleanup and playing right field, was a man with more name recognition than all of them combined, finishing his Red Sox career in a peculiar purgatory, population: one.
When the Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in 2014, he represented not only hope for the future, but redemption for the failure to sign Cuban countryman Jose Abreu a year earlier. He was supposed to hit for power, steal bases, and make plays across the outfield. The Red Sox signed him not because he possessed any particular overwhelming skill, but for his across-the-board stability.
Six years later, Castillo is cashing his final Red Sox checks, having fulfilled virtually none of that promise. He’ll make $14 million this season, but he hasn’t appeared in a major-league game since 2016, and he hasn’t recorded a hit since his first contest of that season, when he went 2-for-4 as an April fill-in.
Despite spending more on payroll over the prior three seasons than anyone, the Red Sox simply couldn’t justify Castillo’s place in the majors.
Because he’s not a member of the 40-man roster, his salary doesn’t count for luxury tax purposes. So he has stayed in the minors, hitting better than .300 in two of the past three seasons at Triple-A Pawtucket, sharing a clubhouse with major leaguers only in spring training.
Once the Grapefruit League schedule ends, Castillo packs his cars — including a vintage McLaren and Lamborghini — and heads north to Pawtucket, where he plays every day with little hope of reaching Boston, no matter how much he produces.
Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke feels for the 32-year-old, who will actually become a free agent this fall, when he’ll hit the market with over $70 million in earnings and only one-tenth of one season of service time.
«He’s going to be a free agent at the end of the year, so I think this is a big year for him,» Roenicke said. «Go out and do what you’ve been doing, which has been really good in Triple-A, and hopefully you find yourself in the big leagues, and not to say it won’t happen this year, but if it doesn’t, shoot, go out and be the same guy and maybe play a few more years. I don’t know him that well, but I know they’ve had really good things to say about him. He’s been in a tough spot, and he keeps doing a nice job for us.»